Zoom conversation between friends a few weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic:
“Man, I barely check the news nowadays. There’s just so much going on, I cannot keep up! I have trouble keeping up with different media channels, news sources and my Twitter feed. Everyone is talking about COVID-19. I just want to know if we have a treatment or a vaccine already. You know yesterday, my mom showed me a video she received on WhatsApp explaining how COVID-19 could be treated with rubbing alcohol. Is that true? I’m not sure what to trust these days!”
Simplifying the “Information overload”
COVID-19 has affected many aspects of our society, including patterns of information seeking. Emerging evidence suggests that the initial attention to COVID-19 news is usually short-lived.1 One possible reason may be the overwhelming amount of information surrounding COVID-19, through various news and social media channels. The information overload has been paired with myriad of misinformation. We found our families and friends troubled over having to navigate multiple news media platforms on a daily basis and assess the veracity of such information.
Being part of healthcare and having access to information that is not easily accessible to the public, we identified the need to provide members of the public with the most relevant and accurate information, in a simple way. We also recognized the importance of delivering such information to them directly, reducing their burden of seeking accurate knowledge. This led our team of four—including medical and graduate students—to brainstorm and formulate a way to package reliable information into daily, digestible updates for all audiences. Our goal and vision with COVID-19 Made Simple (CMS) is to provide a “one-stop shop” to members of the public with the latest and most relevant information surrounding the pandemic.
We used our strong scientific background to distill complex medical and epidemiological concepts in a way that could be easily understood by the layperson. Our initial goal was to develop an infographic that could be disseminated to our friends and families directly through social media platforms such as WhatsApp. Based on relevance and a short end-user poll that we conducted amongst our friends and families, we decided to cover six major sections in our first infographic that was disseminated on April 1, 2020 (Figure 1):
- Case updates
- National updates (Canada)
- Provincial updates (Ontario)
- Local updates (Toronto)
- Miscellaneous (including international updates)
- Research (including information on vaccine development and treatments)
Figure 1: The initial one-page infographic
As we progressed, we realized the need to cater to different audiences through other social media platforms such as Instagram (to address millennials), Facebook (for our parents and older colleagues), and Twitter (a more academic audience). However, approximately two weeks later, we realized that the one-page infographic was too dense and hard to read across all platforms. At the same time – by monitoring follower count, platform analytics and user feedback – we observed that the highest uptake of our information was through Instagram. Thus, we decided to make Instagram our primary platform for dissemination and remodeled our design to optimize it for Instagram’s interface (Figure 2), while continuing to use other platforms as well.
Figure 2: The Instagram-friendly infographic covering six major sections
Upon implementing the new design, we witnessed a significant increase in our follower count and received multiple direct messages from members of the public, appreciating our evolving design and willingness to adapt. Soon after, some of our followers reached out to us requesting shorter, easy to share content, to deliver new public health guidelines or interesting graphs that would be separate from our 6-slide daily updates. To accommodate the increased demand, we expanded our team to a total of 14 members with designated roles from different universities across Canada. Among them, we have a “Quick Facts” team to deliver immediate news updates, and new public health guidelines such as advice on how to properly wear a mask. We also have a “Social Media” team dedicated to expanding our outreach across all platforms as well as keeping our followers engaged through weekly COVID-19 trivia. Our concerted effort on expanding our outreach and vision has allowed us to amass over 3500 followers across various social media platforms as of July 8, 2020.
We have learned four valuable lessons:
- Simplicity is paramount in knowledge dissemination
- Using language that simplifies nuanced statistics, complex graphs and evolving trends is of utmost importance when addressing members of the public with variable scientific literacy.
- Using credible sources to battle misinformation
- We have learned that establishing reputation and credibility is contingent on using validated sources and referencing the work. Our goal has been to promote official government recommendations and share scientific evidence in an attempt to tackle the abundant misinformation.
- Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA)…Repeat
- The constantly evolving design and expanding scope of our outreach can be attributed to the iterative process highlighted by the PDSA cycle.2 Our team initially started with multiple ideas, subsequently implemented those ideas (Figure 1), and then based on team reflections and audience feedback, revised certain details and incorporated changes to improve our final infographic (Figure 2).
- Reflexivity as a virtue in a team-environment
- Finally, we have understood the value of being open minded to different ideas when working in a team. Although the addition of more members introduced competing opinions and decreased our efficiency at first, it ultimately improved our end-product as we found novel ways to problem solve, expand our outreach, and address different subject matter related to COVID-19.
Evolving to support our mission as next steps
We remain committed to gathering audience feedback and modifying our approach to meet their preferences. Going forward, our goal is to produce diverse content in the form of short videos, single image infographics, and increase collaboration with other organizations to expand our reach across a global audience. In a society where attention, not information, has become the limiting factor in the consumption of information,3 we hope to use our platform to convey important concepts in a concise and simple, yet effective, manner.
COVID-19 Made Simple is a grass-roots initiative that was created with the hopes of sharing accurate and reliable information for the community at large. We have managed to partner with over 30 organizations, social media platforms and university groups across Canada, while having obtained the support of 3500 followers across all social media platforms over the last three months. Our resource aims to tackle misinformation and provide accessible information by sharing daily case updates, national and local government recommendations, reliable news coverage, and evidence-based research updates to members of the public without them having to sift through many news sources themselves. It is our hope that through COVID-19 Made Simple, we are able to equip members of the public with the knowledge they need to stay informed in an engaging way throughout the pandemic.
This post was edited by Daniel Ting
This post was copyedited by Emily Stoneham (@emily_stoneham_)
Full CMS Team (Represented by the University of Toronto, McMaster University, Western University and the University of British Columbia): Dhwanil Bhatty, Alvi Islam, Srot Kadakia, Jayneel Limbachia, Shane Natalwalla, Prem Patel, Vikas Patel, Harsh Parikh, Rahul Pawa, Devyani Premkumar, Miloni Sanghvi, Fahad Qureshi, Zaib Qureshi, Karan Vansjalia
- 1.Bento AI, Nguyen T, Wing C, Lozano-Rojas F, Ahn Y-Y, Simon K. Evidence from internet search data shows information-seeking responses to news of local COVID-19 cases. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. Published online May 4, 2020:11220-11222. doi:10.1073/pnas.2005335117
- 2.Institute for HI. Resources: How to Improve. Institute for Healthcare Improvement. http://www.ihi.org/resources/Pages/HowtoImprove/default.aspx
- 3.Shaw MJ, Zhang D, Yue WT, eds. E-Life: Web-Enabled Convergence of Commerce, Work, and Social Life. Springer Berlin Heidelberg; 2012. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-29873-8